Board of Education: Santana-Alicea fills vacant Board of Ed. seat More criticism about the perceived lack of process

Santana-Alicea fills vacant Board of Ed. seat
More criticism about the perceived lack of process
Hoboken Reporter 09/03/2006

Without any public discussion or the opportunity for members of the public to apply for the position, the Board of Education voted to add Wanda Santana-Alicea to the board on Tuesday night.

Former Board Trustee Santana-Alicea fills the unexpired term of John Raslowsky II, who resigned so he can become a candidate for the next superintendent of schools.

In fact, the board has an important role now, as it will seek out superintendents after current schools chief Patrick Gagliardi retires at the end of the year.

While Santana-Alicea, who previously was on the board for six years, is well liked and has experience for the position, some believe that board should have invited members of the public to submit resumes and apply.

Happy to be on the board

Santana-Alicea came in fourth in this past April's School Board election, running on Mayor David Roberts' ticket. The other two members of her ticket gained seats. The third person to gain a seat was Theresa Minutillo, a reformer.

Santana-Alicea is the executive director of the Friendship Day Care Center in Paterson. She is married with two boys, both in the public schools.

She is a graduate of Rutgers University and has a master's degree in early childhood education.

Her husband Angel Alicea, a Union City police officer, is the chairman of the volunteer board of the Hoboken Housing Authority.

"I was here for six years and I feel that, as a group, we can bring many great things to our students," she said shortly after being sworn in. "I'm here because I truly believe that education is the most important thing in your child's life. It's the only thing that makes everyone equal in this world."

One interesting side note is that this marks the first time there has been a female majority on an elected Hoboken governmental body.

Alicea's seat will be up for election next April.

Never without controversy

While Santana-Alicea personally isn't controversial as a candidate for the seat, the process by which she was selected has been. There are few rules in place that dictate how the board must fill a vacancy. In fact, all it takes is a majority vote by the board. There is no requirement for public comment or parameters for a search.

At the Aug. 8 School Board meeting, Board President James Farina introduced a non-binding resolution that expressed the board's intentions to fill the vacancy with Santana-Alicea.

At that time, Board Trustee Theresa Minutillo expressed her dismay over picking a replacement for Raslowsky nearly three weeks before he actually resigned his post. She argued that they could collect resumes and allow members of the public to become candidates.

She even attempted to introduce a resolution that would have given members of the public the opportunity to submit resumes. She said that she consulted the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) in crafting the resolution.

Farina said that her resolution would not be voted upon because he introduced his resolution first. Farina's non-binding resolution passed.

That took the action to this past Tuesday night. At the beginning of the meeting, Farina introduced a resolution to reaffirm the vote from Aug. 8 and to officially appoint Santana-Alicea. The board voted 7-0-1, with Minutillo abstaining.

Minutillo attempted to reintroduce her ordinance, but again was told that she would have to wait until the board voted on filling the seat with Santana-Alicea.

Minutillo said it was a "disgrace to the board and to the public" not to open the selection process.

Defending his actions

After the vote, Farina, a longtime board member who is the full-time city clerk in Hoboken, defended the process.

"We have something that is called the school board election," he said. "That happens every April. Anyone that wants to run for the school board can do so. No one was cut out of the process. Mrs. Alicea was on the school board for six years. She has the qualifications, knows what the issues are, and she has her children in the school system."

But not everyone was satisfied with Farina's reasoning. Felicia Drasheff, a parent who is involved in the Wallace School Parent Teachers Association, was seated in the audience and asked to be heard by the board. Drasheff was nearly a candidate for the School Board in April but dropped out due to political alliances.

Drasheff said that she would have liked to be considered to fill this vacancy.

"I did not come here to be mean-spirited, and Wanda, I congratulate you, but please don't say that the process was open when it wasn't," Drasheff said.

Maybe next time

After Santana-Alicea was sworn in, Farina then allowed the board to vote on Minutillo's resolution.

The resolution, which passed unanimously, will require the board's secretary to advertise in the local papers next time there is a vacant seat on the board. Persons who are interested in the position will then be able to submit a one-page resume and speak at a board meeting.

While Minutillo was clearly disappointed that the board didn't undertake a public process this time, she said she hopes that her resolution will ensure that the process will accessible to the public next time around.

A board in transition

Santana-Alicea's appointment comes at an important time. Besides Gagliardi's impending departure, the board will have to manage state-directed school construction, which is now very much up in the air. The state mismanaged the billions of dollars set aside for new construction projects, leaving districts like Hoboken guessing at how much will be appropriated.

Also, the board has to manage the district's $51 million budget. The district's six schools are anticipating 2,175 students this year, not including the two public charter schools. If that number is divided by $51.2 million, the amount of spending minus the money given to the charter schools, it costs an average of nearly $22,000 to educate each public school student.

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